Living with Food Allergies18 July, 2017
This article is written by nutrition student and Millennial Nutrition intern, Devon de Simone.
My life often seems like a Pepto-Bismol commercial.
I grew up thinking it was pretty normal to get a stomach ache after every meal. It wasn’t until the summer of second grade that my grandma began to hypothesize I was lactose intolerant after a night of no sleep, tears, and consistent trips to the bathroom due to a dairy-filled meal.
After a week of dairy avoidance most of the stomach aches disappeared, and I thought I was cured.
But eight years later, the stomach aches started to come back more frequently. At this point, my mother decided to take me to a doctor of Chinese medicine and acupuncture to see what was going on without doing anything too intrusive.
A variety of tests concluded that I had sensitivities to gluten, dairy, wheat, and soy. I cut all of these out of my diet and within about a week my stomach aches seemed to disappear.
But it was just a few years before my stomach aches came back, and with unbearable vengeance. I would blame most of my pain on long days or hunger. I didn’t want to think there was a chance that after eating so clean and cutting so many things out I could have more food sensitivities.
I finally went to see a naturopath and took an IgE test, which examines your blood to see what foods trigger an immune response in your body. If more than 10 foods are identified as allergens, you will typically be diagnosed with leaky gut. Leaky gut is an increase in the permeability of the lining of the intestines causing an unhealthy amount of food substances to get into the bloodstream.
In my case, 45 foods were identified as allergens—everything from broccoli and potatoes to coffee and green tea! I was shocked.
I was instructed to avoid all food allergens for a minimum of two months to give my gut time to heal and “patch up the holes.” During this time, I noticed improvements in my skin, my stomach issues were more under control, my periods were more regulated, and my energy increased. I am still amazed with how much food affects your health.
If you can relate and are already googling to find a naturopath—WAIT! You may not need to do that quite yet.
These tests tend to be very expensive. Before you invest, review the symptom list below. If you have more than three of these symptoms, you could benefit from a simple elimination diet.
“Do You Have a Food Allergy?” Symptom Checklist:
- Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
- Eczema (a persistent dry, itchy rash)
- Redness of the skin or around the eyes
- Itchy mouth or ear canal
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Nasal congestion or a runny nose
- Slight, dry cough
- Odd taste in mouth
- Uterine contractions
- Obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Turning blue
- Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
- Loss of consciousness
- Chest pain
- A weak or “thread” pulse
- Sense of “impending doom”
Did you check off three or more symptoms? If the answer is yes, follow these steps to conduct an elimination diet:
Step 1. Keep a food journal.
It’s important to listen to your body and assess your reactions to certain foods. By keeping a food journal, you can easily and effectively track your intake and reactions to foods. Don’t worry so much about quantities, just jot down what you ate that day and when/if you have any unexplained symptoms including fatigue, bloating, or headaches. Do this for 1-3 weeks.
Step 2. Review your food reactions.
Review your food journal to see if there are any common trends. You may notice you always get a stomach ache two hours after you eat dairy or feel lethargic after gluten-heavy meals.
Note that the “Big Eight” common food allergies include eggs, fish, milk, tree nuts (including hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts), peanuts (groundnuts), shellfish (including shrimps, mussels, and crab), soy, and wheat. Pay close attention to these foods.
Step 3. Experiment.
Once you have a hypothesis on which foods may be causing your issues, cut them out of your diet. It’s best to cut them out completely. If you just can’t shake something completely, at least try cutting down to only a couple times a week and see how you feel. Three weeks is the magic time frame for food experimentation. After three weeks, you should start to feel a difference. If you still have unwanted pain and symptoms, it’s time to get help from an expert.